New PCC chief is believed to be more aggressive in dealing with rivals

In what is seen as a step of firing on all cylinders against the ruling party in Chhattisgarh, the Congress has replaced a relatively moderate State president with a more politically aggressive Other Backward Class (OBC) leader Bhupesh Baghel.

Mr. Baghel replaced another OBC leader from north Chhattisgarh, Charandas Mahant, who was appointed as the PCC chief following the assassination of Nand Kumar Patel. The need to replace Mr. Mahant with someone more aggressive was voiced by many within the Congress in the aftermath of an electoral defeat two weeks back.

A former Minister in the State cabinet, Bhupesh Baghel, 52, is believed to be less diplomatic and more aggressive in dealing with his political rivals inside and outside the Assembly, an acumen that Mr. Mahant clearly lacked. The main complaint against Mr. Mahant was his reluctance to mount substantial pressure on the BJP and Chief Minister Raman Singh. Mr. Mahant could not sufficiently mobilise the party to corner the BJP after the Darbha Ghat incident in which almost the entire brass of the State Congress was wiped out. A section of the Congress in both the State and in Delhi believe, Mr. Mahant “failed to cash in on the biggest issue” during the run-up to the Assembly election. On the other hand, the erstwhile leader of the opposition Rabindra Chaubey, who used to share a good equation with Mr. Mahant, failed to corner the BJP inside the Assembly. Besides, the State leadership failed to convert issues like poor health and educational infrastructure, huge acquisition of farm land, women and child trafficking from tribal areas, environmental degradation due to large scale mining and forced displacement into organised mass movements.

Corruption charges against BJP govt.

Mr. Baghel, in marked contrast, managed to bolster his image during this period. In the run-up to the election Mr. Baghel sufficiently irritated the State government by releasing narco-analysis test report of a bank employee. The person claimed to have paid money to BJP leaders in the narco test, albeit under the influence of truth serum. Earlier Mr. Baghel targeted the Chief Minister in Pushp Steel and Mines scam, where the company was allocated mining contract in 2004 on the government's recommendation without having any background of mining. However, on both occasions the Congress failed to mount much pressure on the BJP. “Mr. Mahant really soft-pedalled the issues,” said a senior State leader. The Congress also failed to use the public duel between State Chief Secretary and one of the senior leaders, Brijmohan Agarwal, when both sides accused each other of corruption.

However, both Mr. Mahant and Mr. Baghel belong to anti-Ajit Jogi camp in the State.